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Hints & Tips

Buying a Second Hand Mobile Phone

phone-690091__180Buying a second hand mobile phone is a great way to trade-up while calling time on the costs of buying a brand new model. And with the launch of Apple’s new iPhone 4S, it could be the ideal time to pick up older models at great prices. We asked DCI Martin Ford of The National Mobile Phone Crime Unit to give his advice on how to buy a pre-owned phone and avoid any potential pitfalls.

What should people think about if they’re considering a second hand mobile phone?

People are often lured by the price of an item, after which nothing else matters. They should consider this as the start of the process and think about how they will be able to recover their money should the transaction go wrong. Do they have enough information about the seller to enforce their legal rights?

What questions should buyers ask?

The purchaser should ask the seller for their name, the IMEI number (International Mobile Equipment Identity) of the phone, if it is locked to a network or not, and if it has been modified in anyway. If the seller cannot provide these details we would strongly advise not to proceed with the transaction.

How should buyers approach a seller?

Potential buyers should test the provenance of the phone with the seller. The person wants to interact with you so use the opportunity to satisfy yourself as to validity of the item offered for sale. Be calculated and ask questions to protect your rights. Ask for the IMEI, so you are displaying knowledge of your subject by telling them that you intend to do a CheckMEND check. This will deter some sellers who know that there is an issue with the item. If they tell you they have already done a check always do another one as the status of the phone may well have changed.

What is the IMEI number?

All mobile phones have an IMEI number (The International Mobile Equipment Identity) which is unique to every GSM mobile phone. It is usually found printed inside the battery compartment of the phone, except on iPhones where it is located on a pull-out tray. It can also be displayed on the screen of the phone by entering*#06# into the keypad. This number is important and is like a chassis number on a car, given to the phone at ‘birth’ by the manufacturer, and it is the number that offers the best protection to the consumer. The phone number that you dial is generated by the SIM card, which can be changed and replaced.

CheckMEND is the world’s largest database of over 40 billion serial numbered electrical items, how can a buyer use it?

For a fee of less than £2 the buyer can conduct a check on CheckMEND to establish if a phone is reported lost or stolen, and if it is, again, the buyer should not proceed and should inform the company that is hosting the advert. If the Checkmend result indicates that it is not lost or stolen, it will return a make and model associated with the IMEI in any event. If this is not the same as advertised, again, do not proceed with the transaction. If the potential buyer is satisfied with the above and decides to proceed they should use a means of payment that has an auditable function, be it personal cheque, credit transfer, Paypal, etc, to the named person. Do not pay into a third person’s account as you lose control of the transaction. If, as in the majority of cases, everything checks out the transaction should be safe. Whilst people do innocently buy stolen phones they can never acquire legal title. They are often left with a non-functioning unit that they cannot do anything with. The Recycling companies use the same checking process and will not buy stolen phones.

What about buying a phone that is locked to a Network?

This in theory means that the phone will only work on that Network. It is LOCKED not BLOCKED, meaning there is a commercial restriction on its use rather than a legal bar on its ability to connect to networks. It is not illegal to unlock a phone and this can be done in most high street shops for £10-15. It is highly illegal to unblock a phone.

Tell us about counterfeit phones?

Counterfeit phones are increasing in terms of availability. Some are very good copies, others are shockingly bad. Look at the picture offered on the advert. Make sure it is the item offered for sale and not a stock photo. If it is the item look at the manufacturer’s website to ensure that it looks the same, and if in doubt ask for further photos that give you the detail. Consider the price and check it against similar items and recyclers’ valuations – this is a particularly useful function because if someone could get more by putting the unit in an envelope and posting it to a recycler why are they offering it on line? Do a Checkmend check and follow the above advice. Check the IMEI on receipt if you decide to buy it to ensure that it corresponds to the number given. Counterfeit phones can be a real health hazard both in terms of shielding and protection from radiation and exploding batteries. They are also normally made from inferior parts and prone to break. Most repairers will not work on a counterfeit phone.

Any particular considerations for Smartphones?

Smartphones are effectively computers and come either with a secure operating system or with some form of virus protection. Malware is malicious software that can be placed on a phone in a number of ways that can lead to a range of issues, including data compromise and a major intrusion of your privacy. Think long and hard about buying a ‘jail broken’ item. If you do buy please ensure that you install and run a virus checker before use if it is not a secure operating system.

Any other things to consider?

Many second hand phones have some degree of visible use, but sometimes this extends to aspects of their functionality. The basic rule is: find out by asking if there are any issues. Again, consider the price asked and the description. If you decide to purchase the phone ensure there is an audit trail of your payment.

What can buyers do to protect their new phone once they have bought it?  

Register their goods on the Immobilise database. This is free to the public and is checkable by law enforcements. There are 23 million adult accounts with over 60 million items of property recorded. This is not just for phones but for all identifiable property. It is set up by the creation of an account that the individual has total control over, and that person can enter descriptions, serial numbers and even photographs of their prized possessions. They can even change the status of the item to stolen should this happen. This forms part of theNational Mobile Phone Register, and the details are held on a secure system that is approved to Government standards.

What are the figures for mobile phones stolen in theUK each year?

There are about 250,000 – 300,000 phones stolen and reported to Police each year throughout the UK. However, this total is not an accurate figure as many people do not report their crime to the Police, they inform the network who cuts off the SIM card immediately so that they incur no loss by further misuse. The network then blocks the phone on all UKnetworks so that the handset cannot be used with any other SIM within the UK. Details of all reported stolen phones are entered onto the National Mobile Phone Register, by the Police and networks. The true total is likely to be nearer a million in terms of lost and stolen phones out of 70 million live connections currently in the UK.

What happens if you buy a mobile phone that has been stolen?

Stolen phones will not work in the UK, and even if you buy one in good faith the networks will not remove the block for anyone other than the person who reported it stolen to them. Whilst blocking normally takes a very short period of time there are circumstances that mean this can be extended allowing a thief or handler the opportunity to sell it on line. Before buying the phone the buyer should consider the asking price – compare it with other websites and look at the prices the recyclers are offering. If a price is too good to be true it is likely to result in problems. They should also check the wording of the advert, expressions such as ‘Does not work in UK but works abroad’ are telling you that it’s stolen. Blocked phones will work outside the UKnetworks, but there is no other reason for a phone not to work in the UK but to be capable of doing so abroad.

Once you have bought your mobile phone, remember to stay connected to the best second hand bargains on the go by logging on to Preloved’s mobile site right here

General Phone Safety

  • Always use a pin lock or password when the phone/tablet is not in use.
  • Don’t allow people to use the handset /tablet outside your presence, and only for the agreed purpose.
  • Do not share PIN numbers and ensure that they are not easily guessed, eg date of birthday.
  • Read the manual and understand your phones functions. Many have additional features to help you safeguard your data. Use any other protection for files provided by the maker or suitable applications that are available to you.
  • Keep any anti-virus software up to date and update operating system to latest version – it often includes security updates. If you jailbreak the phone, unlock it from a provider, you can not only invalidate the warranty, you can run the risk of changing the operating environment and create security risks for yourself.
  • Do not visit insecure websites, or those that do not appear to be genuine. This is the main cause of virus/malware infections that can compromise your data.
  • Back up your data to a PC or memory stick. Do not keep private or confidential documents or pictures on the handset or internal memory card.
  • Don’t keep personal information such as bank details, home address or other data on your phone that can readily be used by others for identity fraud.
  • If remote wiping is available to you, use the facility post-theft if your handset is stolen. If you have experienced a theft or fraud report it to your Police and network and ensure that you have the IMEI number available for the Police.

Amy Lockley

Amy Lockley

Writer and expert

Amy is the Head of Community at Preloved. In her spare time, she loves volunteering for a rabbit charity, having crafting weekends and kite boarding in Morecombe which is always combined with a camping adventure! She is always on the hunt for a bargain whether that be at car boots, house clearances or charity shops.